Films about witches are few and far between. Their relevance in our superstitions and beliefs have fallen since the dawn of the 20th century, yet once in a while we get a good witch film that pulls us back in. The iconic green faced, wart nosed creature of the Wizard of Oz has changed in the last 20 years. Witches are now this unseen horror in the dark, hidden in away from society, in the darkness of the woods. A manifestation of our fears of the unknown powers of nature and the reassurance that magic is real.
Writer-director Robert Eggers’s Sundance prize-winning feature debut features such a creature. The aptly named Witch is as subtle about its titular villain as it is about its themes of religious zealotry and social isolation. This atmospheric chiller pushes heavily on religion, more so because of its 17th-century setting, that see an English family tormented by an evil presence. Upon a threat of banishment by the church, a farmer leaves the safety of his colonial plantation, relocating his family to a remote plot of land on the edge of a gloomy forest. Struggling to sustain a meagre farmland, the family’s troubles go from bad to worse, as they are targeted by something in the woods.
The Witch divided audience across the world, with strong reviews that made it a must for genre fans, and it’s easy to see why. Whilst the film heavily shakes it religious themes at you, much deeper underlying themes starting to emerge. Themes such as innocence, coming of age and original sin. Original sin is the doctrine which holds that human nature has been morally and ethically corrupted due to the disobedience of Adam of Eve, they disobeyed God and this led the fall of man. Throughout the film, disobeying the rules is always rewarded with tragedy. But it’s the coming of age side of things that is most interesting. Similar to the concepts in The Company of Wolves, The Witch is heavy on symbolism with a hint of sexuality thrown in for good measure.
It’s this symbolism which makes the film compelling. Think of it as a dark Easter egg hunt and you’ll begin to understand the films real charm. The story flows well enough, but that’s never really the main focus. it’s the striking imagery and strong dialogue that really makes this film enjoyable. The horror imagery is just perfect, a creepy blend of nature and the supernatural, especially the focus on the goat they simply call Black Phillip. It’s by no means new, or fresh, but it’s just done very well.
On the surface, The Witch is about a family falling apart, but it’s true tale is about a young girl coming of age in a fundamental Christian family, wonderfully brought to life by Anya Taylor-Joy as eldest daughter Thomasin. The cast is amazing even if the thick Old-English language and accents can be hard to understand at times and the moody score by Mark Korven lovingly compliments the films 17th-century horror tones.
Genre fans won’t find the Witch scary by any means, but they will find much to enjoy. The striking imagery and building dread will keep everyone on the edge of their seats. The films conclusion might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I’ll leave you with one thought that may warrant the film a second viewing. Was Thomasin the witch all along?
- Story 72%
- Scares 15%
- Gore 10%
- Music 50%